Pregnancy Alters Resident Gut Microbes
August 23, 2012
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By Dr. Mercola
The microbes that reside in your gut are very much a living, and integral, part of you.
Far from being just passive bystanders, the bacteria are impacted by your health, your lifestyle and even your life stages – and they actively change in response to different periods of your life, like pregnancy.
Your Gut Microbes Change During Each Pregnancy Trimester to Support Fetal Growth
The composition of a woman's gut microbes actually changes during each trimester of pregnancy in ways that support the growth of the fetus. This is largely influenced by the hormonal shifts that occur during pregnancy.
Interestingly, for the first time, research has shown the microbes actually become less diverse and the number of beneficial bacteria decline while disease-related bacteria increase. Under normal circumstances, such changes could lead to weight gain and inflammation, but in pregnancy, they induce metabolic changes that promote energy storage in fat tissue so the fetus can grow.1
The study's lead author noted:2
"The findings suggest that our bodies have coevolved with the microbiota and may actually be using them as a tool -- to help alter the mother's metabolism to support the growth of the fetus."
The importance of gut flora continues during and after birth, and may have a profound influence on the baby's health and development. An article in Science Daily reported on the featured findings of one related study,3 stating:4
"Each individual's community of gut microbes is unique and profoundly sensitive to environmental conditions, beginning at birth. Indeed, the mode of delivery during the birthing process has been shown to affect an infant's microbial profile. Communities of vaginal microbes change during pregnancy in preparation for birth, delivering beneficial microbes to the newborn.
At the time of delivery, the vagina is dominated by a pair of bacterial species, Lactobacillus and Prevotella. In contrast, infants delivered by caesarean section typically show microbial communities associated with the skin, including Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium, and Propionibacterium. While the full implications of these distinctions are still murky, evidence suggests they may affect an infant's subsequent development and health, particularly in terms of susceptibility to pathogens."
Interestingly, gut flora is not the only factor influenced by the method of birth. One recent study showed that vaginal birth triggers the expression of mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2) in mice, which is important for improving brain development and function in adulthood. The expression of this protein was impaired in mice born via caesarean section (C-section).5
Mom's Gut Bacteria Seriously Impacts Baby's Future Health
Microorganisms in your gastrointestinal tract form a highly intricate, living "fabric" that affects body weight, energy, and nutrition, among other factors.
Not only is each individual's community of gut microbes unique, but the groundwork for each person's gut flora is laid from birth. In fact, the mode of delivery during the birthing process has been shown to affect an infant's microbial profile. This is in part why it's so important for pregnant women to become mindful of their gut health, as it will affect not just their own health, but also that of their child.
The health implications of this variation in gut bacteria acquired from birth is exactly what Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride's research sheds light upon. Her research shows there's a profound dynamic interaction between your gut, your brain, and your immune system, starting from birth. She has developed what might be one of the most profoundly important treatment strategies for a wide range of neurological, psychological, and autoimmune disorders—all of which are heavily influenced by your gut health.
I believe her Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and Gut and Physiology Syndrome (GAPS) Nutritional program is vitally important for MOST people, as the majority of people have such poor gut health due to poor diet and toxic exposures, but it's particularly crucial for pregnant women and young children.
According to Dr. Campbell-McBride, in children with GAPS, the toxicity flowing from their gut throughout their bodies and into their brains continually challenges their nervous system, preventing it from performing its normal function and process sensory information. GAPS may manifest in a wide range of symptoms, fitting the diagnosis of either autism, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD) without hyperactivity, dyslexia, dyspraxia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, just to name a few possibilities... She explained:
"What I see in the families of autistic children is that 100 percent of mom's of autistic children have abnormal gut flora and health problems related to that. But then I look at grandmothers on the mother's side, and I find that the grandmothers also have abnormal gut flora, but much milder."
In essence, what we have is a generational build-up of abnormal gut flora, with each generation becoming ever more prone to being further harmed.
Download Interview Transcript
What Might be Putting Your Gut Flora at Risk?
If you've taken antibiotics or birth control pills, if you eat a lot of processed or sugary foods – even if you were bottle-fed as a baby, all of these can impact the makeup of bacteria and microbes in your gut.
For instance, we now know that breastfed babies develop entirely different gut flora compared to bottle-fed babies. Infant formula never was, and never will be, a healthy replacement to breast milk, for a number of reasons -- altered gut flora being one of them.
Dr. Campbell-McBride discovered that a large percentage of the mothers of autistic children were bottle-fed. Then, as they received many courses of antibiotics throughout their childhood, the abnormalities in their gut flora further deepened.
"Ever since antibiotics were prescribed, particularly from the 50s and 60s, they were prescribed for every cough and sneeze. They really over-prescribed antibiotics. And with every course of antibiotics, the abnormalities in the gut flora would get deeper and deeper in these girls. And then, at the age of 15, 16, these ladies were put on a contraceptive pill… [which] have a devastating effect on the gut flora. Nowadays ladies are taking it for quite a few years before they're ready to start their family."
So, to recap, bottle-feeding along with over-use of antibiotics and use of the contraceptive pill set the stage for increasingly abnormal gut flora with each passing generation. Then, add to that a diet of processed junk food and excessive consumption of fructose and other sugars and you have a prescription for disaster in terms of gastrointestinal health.
Dr. Campbell-McBride continued:
"Many of these modern factors created a whole plethora of young ladies in our modern world who have quite deeply abnormal gut flora by the time they are ready to have their first child. This is the abnormal gut flora that they are passing through their children.
So these babies acquire abnormal gut flora from the start and while the baby is breastfed the baby is receiving protection because whatever is in the mother's blood will be in her milk. Women who have abnormal gut flora would have immune factors in their blood, which they have developed against their own gut flora to protect them. These immune factors will be in their milk.
While the baby is breastfed, despite the fact that the baby has acquired abnormal gut flora from the mom, there will be some protection. But as soon as the breastfeeding stops that protection stops as well. That is the time when the abnormalities in the gut flora really flourish and the child starts sliding down into autism or ADHD or ADD or any other learning disability or physical problems such as diabetes type 1, for example, and celiac disease or other autoimmune conditions, or… asthma, eczema and other physical problems. That's where this epidemic comes from."
If You're Pregnant, This is One of the Healthiest Types of Food to Eat
Maintaining optimal gut flora by eating raw food grown in healthy, organic soil and 'reseeding' your gut with fermented foods and probiotics (this is essential when you're taking an antibiotic), may be one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health and your baby's during pregnancy. If you aren't eating fermented foods, you most likely need to supplement with a probiotic on a regular basis, especially if you're eating a lot of processed foods.
If you're pregnant, however, I strongly recommend adding fermented foods to your diet. You can ferment virtually any food, and nearly every culture has traditionally fermented their foods to prevent spoilage. There are also many fermented beverages and yoghurts.
Fermenting your own foods is a fairly straightforward process. To learn more, please listen to my interview with Caroline Barringer, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) who has been involved with nutrition for about 20 years and is an expert in the preparation of the foods prescribed in Dr. Campbell-McBride's GAPS Nutritional Program.
Download Interview Transcript
What Can You do to Encourage Healthy Gut Flora Once Your Baby is Born?
Breastfeeding was designed by nature to ensure that your child's gut flora develops properly right from the start, as it is loaded both with beneficial bacteria and nutrient growth factors that will support their continued growth. It also has powerful components that will inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria and yeast. So one of the most important foundational elements of building a healthy GI system for your child is to first eat a healthy diet with fermented foods while you're pregnant, and then breastfeed (whenever possible) for at least one year after your child is born.
Providing abundant beneficial bacteria in the form of breast milk and, later, fermented foods is one of the most powerful ways to restore your baby's gut flora.
Once your baby is ready to start solid foods, the first fermented food Dr. Campbell-McBride recommends for your infant is raw organic grass-fed yogurt (not commercial yogurt from the grocery store), because it's well tolerated by most infants and children. It's best to make your own yogurt at home from raw organic milk, and start with a very tiny amount. Once yogurt is well tolerated by your baby, then start introducing kefir. If you have any problems with cow's milk, you can always try goat's milk or substitute vegetables fermented with yogurt culture or kefir culture.